Bees are not only an essential part of the food chain thanks to their pollinating powers, they also provide honey and other products known for their profound health and skincare benefits.
But with populations rapidly declining globally and some species already extinct, how do we help these incredible creatures thrive?
Much like us, the three things that bees need to survive are food, shelter and water. However, due to the demands of agriculture, use of pesticides and climate change, bees are struggling within their natural countryside habitats.
By creating a bee-friendly garden at home, we can help provide the bees with the essentials they need to survive – and thrive. Here are four things to consider when creating your own bee-friendly garden.
1. Choose bee-friendly flowers and plants
The key to creating a bee-friendly garden is to choose a mix of bee friendly flowers and plants that offer a rich and diverse diet of nectar and pollen.That includes trees, hedges, ornamental flowers,herbs, fruits and veggies.
Since there are hundreds of species of bees to cater for that are active throughout the year, it’s important to pick plants that will either provide nectar and pollen year-round, or that flower at different times during the year.
Make sure you pick at least two bee-friendly plants that will be in bloom at the same time, here are a few ideas to get you started:
Spring: flowering cherry, crab apple, daffodils, alliums, grape hyacinth, kale, pussy willow.
Summer: lavender, foxglove, cardoon, echinops, strawberries, chives.
Autumn: single-flowered dahlias, Japanese anemones, wallflower, abelia, runner beans, broad beans.
Winter: snowdrops, winter aconites, ivy, crocuses, winter honeysuckle, hellebores, holly, raspberries.
Next time you go to a garden centre, think like a bee. Look for more ‘open plants’, and avoid plants with lots of petals that make it hard to access the all-important nectar. The RHS ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ tags are also helpful in identifying bee-friendly plants, and plants that bees are already attracted to is always a great sign.
2. Make a planting plan
Start by planting something to suit your needs as well as the bees. You don’t need to have lots of space; pots on the patio, herbs in a planter and even hanging baskets are enough to help the bees.
Plant them in full sunshine and in clustered groups so bees can locate them easily; there’s no need to keep them separate.
Growing from seeds is also a cost-effective method to grow pollinator-friendly habitats. Create a mini meadow in your garden by planting bee-friendly seeds either in a pot or in the ground. All you need to do is scatter them and cover in a thin layer of soil, then water.
Timing is also important. Late winter is the best time to sow seeds for spring and summer plants, while bulbs planted in autumn will bloom in spring.
3. Provide nesting sites
You can help bees to find shelter by cutting your grass less often; it not only gives them a place to burrow but also to feed.
Some bees prefer to nest in wood and stems; so keep piles of branches, sections of bamboo and even logs and tree stumps out to help give shelter. Spring is the best time to do this since this is the time they are looking to nest – just make sure you leave them in a sunny spot!
Solitary bees are also inclined to nest in bee ‘B&Bs’. You can provide these by tying a bunch of bamboo canes together or drilling holes into a block of wood – they like to lay their eggs in hollow cavities. Hang them up high to face the sun, which will keep the bees warm whilst they overwinter.
Don’t forget to leave a source of water nearby; bird baths or a small, shallow pond are a great way to do this.
4. Don’t use pesticides
Last but not least, cut the pesticides. Even the smallest amounts can harm the bees, causing them to get lost when returning to the nest. They may also bring pesticides into the nest, which then get transferred into the honey and damage the next generations of bees.
You can help to keep pests at bay through natural methods such as hand stripping or companion planting. For example, plantingleeks, onions or mint with carrots help to deter carrot fly, while planting garlic among roses will help to keep aphids away.
We’d love to hear how you are helping to bring the bees into your garden – let us know in the comments below.